One of the exciting facets of the burgeoning space industry is that there are so many opportunities for companies to cater to particular segments of the market. Much like how automobile customers do not all want Porsches, BMW’s or Ford F-150’s, there are a plethora of favorable openings that are being filled in this diverse and growing industry. An example of this immerging trend is Firefly Aerospace.
Headquartered in Austin, TX, Firefly has established business operations at Cape Canaveral Spaceport, including launch operations at historic Space Launch Complex 20 (SLC-20) and manufacturing facilities at Exploration Park, Florida. The company has set their sights on providing economical and convenient access to space for small payloads.
Firefly bases their model on a “simplest/soonest” approach to technology selection. Their launch vehicles embody the insights of a diverse design team and leverage commercial off–the–shelf (COTS) components, manufactured by suppliers across the United States. This reduces risk, while maximizing reliability, i.e., the simplest solution to produce an extremely complex technology. This in turn minimizes development time, so their payload deployment is soonest.
Firefly seems to be on track to deliver a U.S. solution for the 1,000 to 4,000 kg payload class to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by 2019, for a starting price of $15 million.
New in New-Space
The company’s founder and CEO Dr. Tom Markusic, in addition to earning his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University, has served in a variety of technical and leadership roles in what are being called “New-Space Companies.” He was Vice President of Propulsion at Virgin Galactic, Senior Systems Engineer at Blue Origin and Director of the Texas Test Site and Principal Propulsion Engineer at SpaceX.
Markusic commented, “Firefly Aerospace is uniquely positioned to be successful in this new economy. With launch sites on both coasts and a mass production facility to support future growth, our global team of over 300 highly accomplished engineers and technicians will provide space solutions from LEO to the surface of the Moon and beyond.”
Firefly’s presence on the Space Coast is due in part to the efforts of Space Florida (the state’s aerospace and spaceport development authority). They assisted the company’s Florida operations by matching Firefly’s infrastructure investments up to $18.9 million via the Florida Department of Transportation Spaceport Improvement Program. Firefly in turn will invest $52 million in a 180,000 square foot rocket assembly plant and will bring more than 200 high paying jobs to Florida, with an average annual salary of $70,000.
“Firefly Aerospace is proud to be the newest member of the Florida Space Coast family,” Markusic said. “Our mass production manufacturing facility in Exploration Park will enable Firefly to produce 24 Alpha vehicles a year, enabling a launch cadence that will support a rapidly expanding global small satellite revolution and the commercialization of cislunar space (within the moon’s orbit).”
Frank DiBello, Space Florida President and CEO commented, “Firefly’s presence in the State of Florida further solidifies that Florida’s Spaceport System is poised to lead the world in this next space era. We look forward to the new launch and manufacturing capabilities that Firefly brings to SLC-20 and Exploration Park.”